Special Time is not easy. We want to give our children our undivided attention and love but we are pulled in a million directions. The busy mind defies our attempts to let go into presence. It will argue that there are so many other things that need to get done, how in the world can we just relax and play with our child?
There are other challenges too. Sometimes we find we are just plain bored with our child’s play. One parent working hard on creating Special Time lamented about how she couldn’t stand to play cars with her son one more time! It didn’t make sense to her why he needed to continue this monotonous play and it didn’t feel special. As adults we are trying hard to figure out the meaning of our child’s play and to validate that this time we are spending is worth it. The question we are really asking in these moments is “Am I enough?” For how could just our bare attention to our child’s meaningless play really be that important?
Your loving, joyful attention is so important for your child.
Most of us did not have parents that showered us with this kind of special attention on a regular basis. We were told to occupy ourselves in play outside of adults’ important time. If we had an achievement, an external product we created, that might be worthy. “Look at my picture, daddy!” “Watch my cartwheel mommy!” But if we just were, just being, not doing or producing anything particular, that was not worthy of attention, or so that was the message we absorbed. And this is reinforced again and again in our society.
We are told:
“If I cannot give an explanation of how what I am doing is valuable, then it is not important.”
We ask ourselves:
“Is my attention really that important to my kid when she is playing?”
Then when your child plays at your feet and you do all you can to follow her thread of play, but can’t keep track of why it’s important, you feel adrift. Your mind wanders.
You don't realize your importance.
Sometimes when we give our kids this special attention, it is more than just vacancy or boredom that arises. Sometimes deep feelings of pain surface. If you have experienced hurt in childhood then giving the equal amount of love to your children reminds that inner part of you just what was missed, and how you longed for it.
This is where getting our own support as parents is integral. Listening Partnerships allow parents to release their difficult emotions about parenting and hurts from the past, so that our minds are more free to be with our children.
There is a saying that goes, “You need to feel it to heal it.”
Talking with a trusted other can help you feel that boredom, irritation, the pains of how you were hurt, and your utter deservingness of love and attention. And in feeling it in this safe and time-limited space you can release a quantum packet of energy that can now be freed up for more productive and creative purposes in your life, including giving your full presence to your child at play.
To create a listening partnership do the following:
1) Call, text or email a person (parent or not) who you feel more or less comfortable with
2) Say you would like to create a listening partnership in which you can both share the frustrations of parenting and life (and share this post with them)
3) Set a time to talk, skype, or meet in a private space (the car works great for phone listening partnerships)
4) Set a timer for 5-20 minutes, depending on what you have
5) During that time one person talks, cries, demands, pounds, shakes, groans, growls, etc and the other person listens, encourages, and reminds the other that they and their feelings are important and will be listened to with full attention (a simple “I am right here.” and “Keep going” is usually enough)
6) When the timer goes off, ask a random question, like “What’s your favorite holiday drink?” or “Name 5 cereals” to get the speaker’s mind back to the present
7) Switch listeners and repeat. Remember to ask the random question at the end.
8) After the question say goodbye. Don’t ask about their life. Don’t bring up what they talked about. Don’t talk more about what you talked about. Save it for your next listening time.
If you would like to explore how to create listening partnerships in more depth I recommend this self-guided class by Hand in Hand Parenting.
Karen Wolfe, MFT is a psychotherapist in San Francisco and the East Bay. She is passionate about helping children and families thrive and has particular expertise with children with exceptional learning and sensory styles.